In 1969, seeking to free painting from the constraint of immediate comparison to reality, Baselitz began inverting his subjects. He painted portraits and landscapes upside-down, creating compositions that appear at first as abstractions, but slowly resolve as representational works. More than four decades later, he continues to subvert the painted subject—now seeking atmospheric effects that impart to the viewer the sensation of peering through a vaporous void to discover ambiguous bodies within.
Baselitz’s work confronts the very limits of color, material, and composition. This, combined with his compulsive reference to self, produces an ever-expanding body of work in dialogue with precedents, including his own. Throughout his career, Baselitz has unceasingly revisited particular motifs. This consistent subject matter forms an anchor within a turbulent progression of painterly experimentation. “Jumping Over My Shadow” presents paintings and drawings that focus on the human body yet which make that body difficult to approach or perceive. This set of elusive self-portraits includes several unseen works that Baselitz made after the Avignon paintings, that were featured in the 2015 Biennale di Venezia, a series of eight towering vertical canvases, each containing a single visceral figure.
In these new works, with the intentionally obscured use of color, Baselitz conveys the sense of these bodies through the materiality of paint. In Abgang mit Marcel (Leaving with Marcel) (2016), drips of paint create a tangled vascular system for a ghostly, even weightless, figure. Its milky-white, partly translucent body oozes down the canvas, the head already beyond the edge. As suggested by its title, the work refers to Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (1912), but instead of following a prismatic Cubist descent, Baselitz’s nude simply vanishes. Its feet float, failing to touch the staircase formed by a thin white line
While Baselitz’s paintings become ever more cryptic and abstruse, “Jumping Over My Shadow” places them with sculptures that strive for directness and legibility. Unlike the paintings and drawings, which seem to melt
away, the sculptures are anchored in an obdurate materiality. The weight and solidity of bronze disguises itself in the dense matte black of charred wood: the resulting forms—skulls, legs like pieces of lumber in high heels, and a dancer—claim mythical origins in their elemental simplicity.